Which Team Will Make Its Super Bowl Debut Next Season?

Sunday, January 20, 2019 1:24 PM UTC

Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019 1:24 PM UTC

Four teams have never played in a Super Bowl: the Lions, Browns, Jaguars, and Texans. Which team has the best shot at playing in Super Bowl LIV next season?

Twelve NFL teams have failed to win the Super Bowl. In a salary-cap league inviting parity among its members, it takes a special kind of bad to never even play for the chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. Four franchises fall under this category: the Lions, Browns, Texans, and Jaguars. Which team has the best shot at making the big game in 2020? Here are our thoughts.

Victory Margins Matter

NFL champions are crafted for the long-term, set up for dynastic measures. Since 2000, every Super Bowl has featured at least one prior Lombardi Trophy winner. It’s tough for a franchise to improve rapidly in the league’s current composition and shock the sports world with an unexpected Super Bowl appearance in a single season. There are roughly 10 or so teams with a legitimate shot to win it all at the start of each year, and their preseason odds will typically sit at +2000 or less. This season the Patriots (+600), Rams (+1000), Saints (+1400) and Chiefs (+3000) were all offered in the top half of options prior to Week 1.

Since 2000, only two teams (Patriots, 2002 ; Giants, 2008) have won the NFL’s biggest game owning a negative average margin of victory the prior season. Only six teams in this stretch have even played in the Super Bowl under these conditions. The Texans (4.24) are the lone member of the four Super Bowl virgins to post a positive differential in 2018, making their chances at a run most believable next season.

Averaging a two-year points differential is better for gauging whether a team will reach the Super Bowl or not. Since 2000, only three teams (Panthers, 2003; Cardinals, 2008; Falcons, 2016) have played for the Lombardi Trophy with a negative margin over the course of two seasons. Sorry Houston (-0.79), only the Jaguars (2.40) fall under this umbrella out of the four franchises (Browns -6.53; Lions -0.06), making Jacksonville our most likely contender to make its Super Bowl debut in 2020.

As Miami’s record-breaking 11th game in 2020 approaches, view a brief #history of past #superbowls hosted in our city. Which two teams do you think will end up at @HardRockStadium? #TBT #MiamiSB2020 #SuperBowl2020 #SBLIV #SB54 #FoundInMiami #Miami pic.twitter.com/BqdKr6s2JO

— Miami Super Bowl LIV (@MiamiSB2020) August 16, 2018

Detroit Lions

Super Bowl LIV Odds: +10000

Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, the Lions are hands down the worst franchise in football. They are the only NFC team yet to win or host a conference championship. Detroit has played for a trip to the Super Bowl once, trounced 41-10 by the Redskins at RFK Stadium in the 1991 season.

Detroit took a huge step backwards in 2018 under first-year head coach Matt Patricia. Franchise signal-caller Matt Stafford averaged a 50.9 QB rating, his third-lowest mark in a 10-year career. Expect further inconsistency under newly hired offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell next season.

The biggest issue is an inefficient pass defense, which allowed 7.3 yards per attempt. Since 2000, no team has reached the Super Bowl the following season allowing 7.1 or higher the prior campaign. It also hurts that the NFC North has emerged as arguably the toughest division in football with the blossoming of the Bears. Pass on the Lions winning the NFC as a longshot next year.

Cleveland Browns

Super Bowl LIV Odds: +3000

Resurrected in 1999 following the original franchise’s move to Baltimore, the Browns have proven historically bad at football. They own just two winning seasons in this span, going 95-225-1 (29.7 percent) overall. Cleveland lost 36-33 to the Steelers in their lone Wild-Card playoff appearance in 2003.

The mood is bright in Cleveland with the emergence of Baker Mayfield under center and the departure of Hue Jackson as coach. After a horrid 1-32-1 SU run, the Browns played .500 football (7-7) to close out the 2018 season. There are still big needs on both sides of the ball, especially defensively. The unit allowed 393.0 total yards per game, ranking 30th in the league. Over the last 19 seasons, no team has allowed more than 381.0 per game the previous year and reached the Super Bowl.

Houston Texans

Super Bowl LIV Odds: +3000

The 2018 AFC South winners seem the logical choice to play in Super Bowl LIV. QB Deshaun Watson is a proven passer capable of carrying an offense. Keeping him upright is the biggest challenge, however. Houston yielded a sack on 10.5 percent of drop backs, most in the NFL. This calculates to 3.8 times per game. Since 2000, no team has played for the Lombardi Trophy allowing more than 3.0 for the year. None allowed more than 3.3 the prior season as well. Configuring the right personnel and communication among the offensive line is a multiple-year project in the NFL, unlikely to fix itself overnight for Houston. Be cautious backers.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Super Bowl LIV Odds: +3000

The Jaguars have loss three AFC Championships (1996, 1999, 2017) in their 23 years of existence. They are the closest of the four franchises to emerging as a formidable football dynasty. The defense is dominate, surrendering 19.8 points per game in 2018 (No. 4) and 17.7 (No. 3) the previous season.

An inconsistent offense is the issue of late with QB Blake Bortles given too long a look under center. He’s gone in 2019, yet Jacksonville needs to restructure and is missing a go-to guy under center. The belief is the front office will draft a franchise player, and lure a solid veteran like Joe Flacco, Ryan Tannehill, or Tyrod Taylor to fill the void until he’s ready. Most of the free agent QBs available border on mediocrity, but to be honest, Bortles had a tough time reaching average levels in many aspects of his game. No pickup can be worse, right? You never know. The right fit and a little luck make Jacksonville by far the virgin franchise most likely to play in Super Bowl LIV.

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